Monday, June 10, 2019


Writer: Archie Goodwin | Artist: Walter Simonson

When Archie Goodwin took over DETECTIVE COMICS as its editor and appointed himself writer of the monthly lead feature starring Batman, he also took to populating the series with various backups, including "Manhunter", another serial which he also wrote. In collaboration with Walter Simonson on art, Goodwin scripted six monthly "Manhunter" chapters before concluding the serial in a full-length lead story teaming the character with Batman.

Manhunter's saga begins in DETECTIVE #427 (making it a backup to "Deathmask", which we looked at a few weeks back). Over the course of these six installments, we follow Christine St. Clair, an Interpol agent on the trail of Paul Kirk -- a big game hunter who was reported killed decades earlier. We soon learn that Kirk was a hero named Manhunter in the 1940s, and that he worked for a mysterious Council which put him into suspended animation after World War II.

The following chapters reveal that the Council, which presented itself to Kirk as benevolent, actually has its sights set on ruling the world -- and that part of their scheme involves the creation of a highly-trained troupe of soldiers and assassins to be led by Kirk. Further, it turns out that all these warriors are clones of Kirk created by the Council's scientists. When Kirk realizes what his masters are up to, he deserts the Council and he and Christine find themselves on the run. The serial concludes with Kirk and Christine hooking up with the world's last master of ninjutsu, Asano Nitobe -- a former member of the Council who trained Kirk to fight.

All this leads into DETECTIVE COMICS 443, where Manhunter crosses paths with Batman. It begins in Gotham City, as the body of a private detective named Dan Kingdom is fished out of the river. Referring to Kingdom as a "best friend", Batman sets out to find his killer. But soon after, a visiting African dignitary is murdered during a party at Wayne Manor, sending Batman on a globetrotting adventure which eventually leads him to Paul Kirk's door.

Batman, Manhunter, Christine, Asano, and Kirk's weapons supplier, Kolu, head for the Council's hidden headquarters in Australia, where they infiltrate the base. Goodwin gives Batman a personal stake in the matter by way of his heretofore unseen BFF, Kingdom, but this is really a Manhunter story wearing Batman's cape. I'm curious whether the saga might have been prematurely ended when Goodwin learned he would not be continuing as the editor of DETECTIVE. You used to see this now and then in Marvel comics in the seventies, so I suspect it might have cropped up among DC's output as well: a series gets cancelled, so its writer wraps up the storylines in another title he happens to be writing -- though in this case, the "cancelled" series simply happens to have been a backup in this same comic, making the conclusion a bit easier to manage, even if it does feel like Batman is mostly an observer in his own comic.

Anyway -- to wrap things up, Paul Kirk succeeds in his mission and destroys the Council, but while his allies manage to escape, Kirk sacrifices his life to win the day.

It's not of the seventies, but I want to also mention that some years later, after Goodwin passed away, Walter Simonson finished a story he and Goodwin had devised as a sequel to the Manhunter saga. With Goodwin gone, Simonson produced it as a dialogue-free "silent" story, and it is reprinted, along with the original storyline, in TALES OF THE BATMAN: ARCHIE GOODWIN. In it, Paul Kirk appears in Gotham and both Christine and a masked assassin attempt to kill him. Batman gets involved and tries to save Kirk, but ultimately fails. After Kirk dies, Christine and the assassin, revealed as Asano, explain that they've been picking off the Kirk clones one-by-one, and this was the last remaining copy of their late friend. Batman allows the duo to escape before the police arrive.

The Manhunter storyline seems to be beloved in comics fandom. Even Archie Goodwin, per Wikipedia, once said that it was among the best things he'd done in comics. While I had read DETECTIVE #443 prior to revisiting it here, this was actually the first I'd ever read the preceding serial, and I have to say -- it's pretty good. Goodwin, who at this point had been writing newspaper comic strips for a few years, puts those skills to excellent work. He knows how to plot short (six-page) chapters that somehow feel fully developed, like complete mini-adventures (cliffhangers notwithstanding, of course). And the work by Simonson, inking himself here, is absolutely beautiful (though I must admit his Batman is often a bit too off-model for me).

I will say, however, that I've always found Manhunter's costume a little goofy looking, but that's not necessarily due to Simonson's design (which is in part based on the design of the original Golden Age Manhunter by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon). I think it's the colors that get me. This guy is supposed to be a master of stealth and an assassin, but he dresses in bright red and white with blue and yellow highlights. It just looks weird, and it doesn't seem to fit the character as created (or re-envisioned) by Goodwin and Simonson.

Next week, we'll continue an unbroken streak of DETECTIVE COMICS issues as we examine Len Wein's famous five-part "Bat-Murderer" storyline, which directly followed Goodwin's run as writer/editor, in one fell swoop!


  1. This is one of your finest reviews yet of the 1970s "Batman" saga. I had fun reading it, especially with the Manhunter teamup.


  2. A small correction: Goodwin’s Detective, and thus the Manhunter serial, was bimonthly rather than monthly.


  3. The Manhunter back-ups begin in #437, not #427 — just a typo, I’m sure.

    I got very few of these issues new at the time but my memory of the first Manhunter story — the last sequence in particular, with him stepping out of the robes and removing the fake beard to reveal that he was the very person he was being queried about — has stuck with me for decades. Looking up the story at the GCD, I’m reminded that I read it in the first and only issue of Dynamic Classics, launched just before the DC Implosion (whose lead story was “Secret of the Waiting Graves”, already known to me from my Batman ’30s to the ’70s book).

    When the serial was collected in a one-shot in 1984, I happily picked it up, and was not the least bit miffed to repurchase its contents — along with that new story you mention — in the slim 1999 “Special Edition” TPB.

  4. I was hoping you'd cover the Manhunter stuff, simply because I absolutely adore Simonson's artwork, and the Manhunter stories are my favorite ones Archie Goodwin did. I don't think Goodwin worked better with any other artist than Simonson-their adaptation of Alien is amazing, and I while I wish they'd done more together, I can't complain too hard, given that when Simonson was in his prime it gave us his sublime Thor run. Those two just clicked together.